"The political breakdown in Sacramento is threatening jobs, our schools and the state's credit rating, which is the worst in the country," Brown said in an online video message to voters released as he began a series of news interviews around the state.
"Our state is in serious trouble and the next governor must have the preparation, the knowledge and the know-how to get California working again. That is what I offer and that's why I'm declaring my candidacy for governor."
Brown, who served as mayor of Oakland before being elected attorney general four years ago, was California's governor from 1975 to 1983.
During those years Brown marshaled both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to slow the growth of state government, eliminate capital gains taxes for many small businesses, abolish the business inventory tax, index personal income taxes, adopt the nation's first energy efficiency standards, and make California the leader in co-generation, solar and wind energy. Private-sector jobs grew at almost double the national rate.
"When I was governor, California added 1.9 million new jobs in eight years," Brown said. "I know we can do it again and be the leader in renewable energy, good jobs and quality schools."
Brown said the key to ending the state's partisan gridlock is a governor with in-depth knowledge of how government and Sacramento politics actually function.
"Some people say that if you've been around the process you can't handle the job, that we need to go out and find an outsider who knows virtually nothing about state government," Brown said. "Well, we tried that and it doesn't work. We found out that not knowing is not good."
The attorney general said the answer to Sacramento's problems "is not a scripted plan cooked up by consultants or mere ambition to be governor."
"We need someone with insider's knowledge, but an outsider's mind," Brown added, "a leader who can pull people together - Republicans and Democrats, oil companies and environmentalists, unions and businesses. We need to work together as Californians first. And at this stage in my life, I'm prepared to focus on nothing else but fixing this state I love."
Brown explained that he has seen state government "from every angle."
"I've seen our government...when it works and when it doesn't work. And it's no secret that Sacramento isn't working today. The partisanship is poisonous. Political posturing has replaced leadership. And the budget, it's always late, always in the red and always wrong."
Brown said that if elected he will be guided by three "governing principles."
First, I'll tell you the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No more puffy slogans and platitudes. You deserve the truth and that's what you'll get from me. Second, in this time of recession when people are financially strapped, there will be no new taxes unless you the people vote for them. Third, we have to downsize state government from Sacramento and return decisions and authority to the cities, to the counties and to local schools."
As governor, Brown said he consistently had budgets approved on time and built a prudent budget surplus to serve as a "rainy day fund." He said that he reduced the number of state employees per 1,000 Californians from 9.6 in 1975 to 9.2 in 1982. During his term in office, the tax burden for California residents declined from $6.90 per $100 of income in 1975 to $6.72 in 1982.
Following the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which cut property taxes collected by local governments by two-thirds, Brown said he used the state's "rainy day fund" to help local school districts, police and fire departments, cities and counties maintain essential services.
Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis said, "I knew Gov. Brown was the man who could make it work."
While curbing the growth of state government, Brown claimed that it was his "cutting-edge" environmental protections that became guidelines for the nation to follow.
Among his other accomplishments, Brown cited the strengthening of the California Coastal Commission and establishment of comprehensive policies governing development along the coast. He also signed the nation's first legislation requiring high school students to demonstrate basic proficiency before graduation. State funding for higher education, including community colleges, more than doubled during his eight years as governor, he said.
"These are really serious times, but our state is still the best place on earth to live and to raise a family," Brown said. "Our businesses lead the world in technology and innovation. Our natural environment is second to none. By making the tough decisions now, we can get through this crisis leaner and more efficient, poised for a comeback that will lead to a whole new period of prosperity. That's what drives my candidacy. But it's not going to happen overnight or with empty promises and photo ops. It takes patience and courage. But, together, we can all get California working again."
He also made the announcement for governor on the Internet in a letter-formatted message addressed to "Dear Supporter.,"
"Today, I am formally announcing my candidacy for the office of governor of California, to deal head-on with the challenges facing this state I love," he stated in the Internet message. "I have lived in California all my life, and I believe the obstacles in our path are substantial, but not insurmountable. If we have a governor who will truly commit to dealing personally with the tough choices facing our state, and who will get in the trenches side by side with legislators, we can get California working again."
"This campaign will not be easy," he added. "I will face an opponent with nearly unlimited personal resources to pour into television ads and attacks. I am counting on your support, and your hard work over the next nine months. I believe I have the experience, the understanding of State Government, and commitment required to move California forward. I look forward your help in this important campaign."
Brown rejected the idea that a political outsider was right for the job, saying the state had already tried that and discovered that "it doesn't work."
"The partisanship is poisonous; political posturing has replaced leadership," he said of California's current politics. "And the budget --
it's always late, it's always in the red, and it's always wrong.
Brown has also served as California secretary of state and mayor of Oakland.
A San Francisco native and son of former California Gov. Pat Brown, his campaign positions him as a battle-hardened leader with the experience necessary to steer the state out of its fiscal crisis.
Brown will square off in the general election against the winner of the Republican primary, likely either former eBay CEO Meg Whitman or State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Poizner formally announced his candidacy at a news conference in San Jose on Monday.
Either candidate would likely try to portray Brown as part of the political machine that brought California to its current state of crisis. Both have poured millions of their own dollars into their primary campaigns.
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said campaign financing is important, but how money is spent is equally important.
Spending too much on TV ads, for example, could create a backlash if voters get tired of a candidate, Whalen said. Spending money on campaign infrastructure, focus groups, polling and voter turnout efforts is more effective, he said.
Brown will likely need to work hard to encourage youth voter turnout, which could be bolstered by a visit from President Obama, Whalen said.
Brown's best-known potential rival for the governor's seat, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, dropped out of the race in October, allowing Brown to bypass a lengthy and expensive primary campaign, Whalen said. That could work to his advantage or disadvantage, according to Whalen.
"This is one of the bigger what-ifs of the campaign," he said.
"The Republicans fear they will have a bloody primary campaign where the winner comes out so bruised it will affect their chances. But Democrats fear Jerry Brown won't be as sharply focused without a primary campaign."
Other what-ifs include Brown's age and experience.
Voters could respond well to a candidate who has dealt with Sacramento's tough political climate, but Brown's record could make him vulnerable as Republicans prepare to pick apart his history, Whalen said.
Whitman's campaign released a statement today saying of Brown, "We'd like to welcome him to the race, and we're looking forward to discussing Brown's 40-year political career."
If elected, Brown would take office at age 72, nearly three decades after he last held the governor's job. Whalen said no other state has a governor in his or her 70s.
"It makes for a fascinating contrast in California," Whalen said.
Whalen said voters also respond well to the "political newcomer platform," which he said Schwarzenegger ran on in 2003. Schwarzenegger has not yet endorsed a candidate in the race.
"He's been very coy," Whalen said. "He keeps saying he will endorse whoever is best."
Whitman has attacked Schwarzenegger's prized anti-global warming bill, AB 32, saying she would put a one-year moratorium on it if elected.
Brown's record is much more pro-environment, which could also resonate with younger voters, Whalen said. In short, Whalen added, it could be a close race.
"I would guess this will be a nail-biter one way or the other," he said.